RNC Chairman’s Race Update: Wadhams Endorses Anuzis

RNC Chairman’s Race Update: Wadhams Endorses Anuzis
By Marc Ambinder
The Atlantic
January 27, 2009

Four days until the end of the race, and no one really knows who is going to win.

Today, candidate Saul Anuzis, the chair of the Michigan GOP, will be endorsed by the well-regarded chair of the Colorado Republican Party, Dick Wadhams.

And Michael Steele picked up an important endorsement: Randy Evans, a close confidant of Newt Gingrich’s. (Evans isn’t a member of the RNC.)

Duncan’s co-chair, Jo-Ann Davidson, released a statement about reports that the current chair was seeking an alliance with Steele:

“Between now and election day, there will probably be lots of conversations between mutual friends of candidates. That’s just the nature of a campaign like this. We are not going to react to rumors of friends talking to friends. Our campaign is focused on a Member to Member approach to the finish line. Mike Duncan is running for Chairman and will be elected by the members and not through a deal. Whether that takes two ballots, three ballots, four ballots, or more, he will win on the last ballot.”

And James Bopp, Jr., the famed anti-abortion lawyer and RNC member from Indiana, e-mailed his personal list an essay about Steele’s involvement in the centrist Republican Leadership Council. Bopp does not like the Republican Leadership Council. Read it after the jump.

The Bopp Letter

Recent news accounts of the RNC Chairman’s race have focused on whether Michael Steele is or should be the conservative choice. Sean Hannity thinks so, and so does Lisa Cheney, who I recently found out, to my surprise, is not Dick Cheney’s daughter. But others have their doubts. The Politico recently ran an article about Michael Steele’s candidacy for RNC Chairman where Kim Lehman and Steve Scheffler, NCW and NCM from Iowa, expressed concern about Mr. Steele’s candidacy because of his involvement with the Republican Leadership Council.

I share this concern. When Mr. Steele first called me about his candidacy for RNC Chairman, I asked him about his involvement in the Republican Leadership Council. He said he got involved because of his friendship with Christie Todd Whitman and left because he need to spend more time with GOPAC. He said that if he is unsuccessful in his quest to be RNC Chairman, because of his involvement with the RLC, “so be it.” My impression from this conversation was that the Mr. Steele’s involvement in the Republican Leadership Council was casual and innocent.

As a result, I went to the RLC website to see what I could find. I was already aware of Whitman’s hostility to social conservatives, as well as co-founder John Danforth’s. What I found was over a dozen pages on the RLC’s website that detailed his extensive involvement with RLC that made it plain that Steele’s involvement in the group was not what I understood. You cannot go to their website now, however, and find out about this. Sometime in early December, the RLC’s website was scrubbed of Steele’s involvement. He is no longer listed as being a Co-Chairman or a Co-Founder, as having make fundraising trips, or as having resigned. All this information is now down Orwell’s 1984 memory hole. Fortunately, I copied all the relevant pages at the time and some of the other pages can still be found on the web.

Mr. Steele has also offered other explanations on other occasions. At the Conservative Steering Committee interview on January 6th, Steve Scheffler asked Mr. Steele why he joined the RLC and why he left. Mr. Steele told us that he joined because of his friendship with Whitman and left as soon as he realized that it would be unfriendly to social conservatives. In another venue, he said that he joined to be “a pro-life conservative voice on a board with a pro-choice leadership that is looking to elect moderates.” Finally, a Steele supporter recently explained, on behalf of the Steele campaign, that “When Michael agreed to be a conservative on that Board, it was not involved in primaries but general elections where only one Republican was running. Once they started to get involved in primaries, Michael resigned.”

Some, such as Florida Chairman Jim Greer, have pooh-poohed this concern by claiming that “Michael’s sin (is) that he is willing to meet and talk to anyone.” Some think that some are questioning his personal pro-life beliefs. None of these claims are true for me. I have no problem with meeting and talking to anyone, because I believe that honest dialogue is a healthy and necessary step in unifying the RNC behind its next Chairman. In addition, I do not doubt the sincerity of Michael’s pro-life beliefs. He has a public record of support for the pro-life cause which I appreciate. Furthermore, I am very impressed by Mr. Steele’s success in overcoming personal and political challenges to become Maryland’s Lt. Governor and by his obvious communication skills.

My concern is that we need a RNC Chairman who is able to unify all branches of the conservative movement within the RNC. Unfortunately, there are those who want to divide the conservative movement by pitting fiscal conservatives against social conservatives, and ultimately to drive social conservatives out of the Republican Party. I count Christie Todd Whitman and John Danforth in that group. They founded the Republican Leadership Council to wrestle “control” of the Party away from “social fundamentalist.” That Michael Steele helped start this group, and actively supported it, means he was at least willing to aid and abet this cause.

Unfortunately, none of Steele’s subsequently explanations about his involvement in the RLC satisfactorily explains it and some explanations are contradicted by the facts. Furthermore, the scrubbing of RLC’s website of Steele’s involvement is deeply troubling in itself.

I believe that you are entitled to know the basis of my opinion so you can decide for yourself.

The fact that the Republican Leadership Council was “unfriendly” to social conservatives was obvious from the beginning.

The Republican Leadership Council was created in March of 2007 and Michael Steele was one of its Founders. However, the RLC’s website www.republican-leadership.com no longer contains this information. When I visited the RLC’s website in November and early December, there were over a dozen pages where Michael Steele’s name appeared. They are now gone. Fortunately, I made copies of the relevant web pages and, since the web is now regularly swept and archived, you can still get some of the relevant web pages online by going to http://www.archive.org/web/web.php and entering www.republican-leadership.com . There are now two entries for Michael Steele on the RLC’s website, both about the RNC Chairman election. One is a column by liberal Democrat E.J. Dionne on January 7, 2009, bemoaning that the RNC Chairman’s race has become “hunkering down to preserve ideological purity,” and the other is a January 22nd analysis of the race which describes Steele as being “regarded as the most moderate candidate in the field.”

The RLC’s website was scrubbed of Steele’s co-founding of the RLC by amending certain entries. “About Us,” for instance, originally stated that “Inspired by a drive to get back to the fundamentals of the Republican Party, Senator John Danforth, Lt. Governor Michael Steele, and Governor Christine Todd Whitman created the political organization the Republican Leadership Council.” Today, it says “Inspired by a drive to get back to the fundamentals of the Republican Party, Senator John Danforth and Governor Christine Todd Whitman created the political organization the Republican Leadership Council.” “Bio – Governor Whitman” previously explained that “She is also co-chair of the Republican Leadership Council (RLC), which she founded with Senator John Danforth and Lt. Gov. Michael Steele.” Now, it says “She is also co-chair of the Republican Leadership Council (RLC), which she founded with Senator John Danforth.”

RLC’s “mission is to support fiscally conservative, socially tolerant candidates and to reclaim the word Republican.” Of course, both Whitman and Danforth’s opinion on the involvement of social conservatives in the Republican Party were well known when the RLC was founded. Former Senator Danforth in 2005 published two op-eds in the New York Times decrying generally the Republican Party’s adoption of a socially conservative agenda and specifically the involvement of socially conservative Christians in the party. Former Governor Whitman was also outspoken before the 2007 founding of the RLC, but was more colorful. She had published a book It’s My Party Too, which decried the “rightward lurch” of the GOP under the Bush administration for its embrace of “social fundamentalism.”

Furthermore, RLC quickly established “partnerships” with organizations dedicated to pushing the Republican Party leftward, particularly on social issues: Log Cabin Republicans, Main Street Coalition, Planned Parenthood Republicans for Choice, Republicans for Choice, Republican Majority for Choice and the WISH List.

Mr. Steele must have know of Whitman’s and Danforth’s hostility to social conservatives when he joined them in founding the RLC and of its partnerships with liberal groups after it was founded and he certainly could not have misunderstood that the RLC’s mission was to advance these views. One must assume that people join organizations that they agree with.

The involvement of the RLC in contested Republican primaries was one of its central purposes.

Furthermore, according the Whitman’s Bio on the RLC website, the RLC was created “by joining forces with Governor Whitman’s political action committee, It’s My Party Too.” This PAC, founded in February 2005, was dedicated to elect “fiscally conservative, socially inclusive” Republican candidates, IMP-PAC was especially involved in Republican primary contests “where many moderate Republican candidates often face bruising primary challenges from well-financed fundamentalist candidates.” IMP-PAC’s website www.mypartytoo.com still acknowledges, as of today, that it “recently joined forces with other prominent national Republicans, including Senator John Danforth, Governor Tom Ridge, and Lt. Governor Michael Steele, and have reenergized the Republican Leadership Council.” IMP-PAC changed it name on February 26, 2007, to Republican Leadership Council Federal PAC.

IMP-PAC raised over a million dollars during the 2006 election cycle and was involved in both endorsing and contributing to pro-choice candidates in contested Republican primaries. In August 2006, IMP-PAC endorsed Michigan Congressman Joe Schwarz and Colorado Congressional candidate John Anderson and Whitman stumped for Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee, each in hotly contested Republican primaries. Furthermore, according to its FEC reports, IMP-PAC contributed in six Republican primaries in 2006, three in 2007, and thirteen in 2008, before Steele’s resignation announcement from the RLC on June 23, 2008. (You cannot find Steele’s resignation announcement on the RLC’s website now, since his resignation from the RLC, just like his founding of it, has gone down the RCL’s memory hole. It was at www.republican-leadership.com/node/567 , but now you find “Access denied. You are not authorized to access this page.”)

Furthermore, Steele has not shown any reticence in involving himself in contested Republican primaries on behalf of some liberal Republicans. In early 2008, when he claims that he didn’t know about the RLC’s involvement in contested Republican primaries, he was supporting RLC-endorsed liberal Congressman Wayne Gilchrest over conservative challenger State Senator Andy Harris in the February 12th Maryland primary. Gilchrest lost and then endorsed Barack Obama for President. Steele’s campaign manager for RNC Chairman was the media and political consultant for the National Republican Senatorial Committee that spent $1.2 million in the 2006 Rhode Island GOP primary supporting RLC-endorsed Senator Chafee. Chafee also endorsed Obama in 2008.

As a result, it is simply not accurate to say that the RLC “was not involved in primaries but general elections where only one Republican was running,” and that “once they started to get involved in primaries, Michael resigned.” Involvement in contested Republican primaries was the raison d’etre for the RLC’s PAC and its predecessor, IMP-PAC, and Steele was not the least bit reluctant to do so himself.

Steele’s involvement in the RLC was not just some favor to a friend or some casual meet and greet.

Steele’s involvement with the RLC went way beyond a favor for a friend or some casual meet and greet. Steele was an active participate in the RLC’s affairs. On or about July 18. 2007, he traveled to California with Whitman to participate in a fundraiser for the RLC in Montecito. The RLC’s report on this at www.republican-leadership.com/node/326 has also been scrubbed and your access is now “denied.” On July 27, 2007, Steele published an article in the Washington Times supporting “Big-tent Republicanism.” While moderate in language and measured in tone, its message was unmistakable. Steele called for Republican leaders who were “comfortable with new ideas” and “with the political courage to resist easy stereotypes,” and who are “anxious to bridge the gap between ideology and action.” The RLC reprint of this article at www.republican-leadership.com/node/327 is now also down the memory hole and your access is again “denied.”

Steele is also featured in RLC fundraising letters:

One thing has become abundantly clear:

The far-right has it all wrong!

Their exclusionary tactics, rigid litmus tests, and senseless finger pointing have done a disservice to the Republican Party and democracy in general.

But there is hope for our party . . . the newly formed Republican Leadership Council (RLC-PAC).

I have been supporting moderate candidates since I was Governor of New Jersey and I am pleased to join former Missouri senator and former Ambassador to the U.N. Jack Danforth, as well as former Maryland Lieutenant Governor and current GOPAC Chairman Michael Steele, in creating a powerful and influential group that can bring our party back to its roots while promoting the commonsense centrist values we all hold so dear.

. . .

The Republican Leadership Council is dedicated to supporting fiscally conservative, socially inclusive Republican candidates at all levels of government.

RLC fundraising letter dated June 11, 2007.

This is consistent with Steele’s express views. In November 2006, Steele told Time magazine that “I’m conservative, but I’m also moderate,” and, in a December 2008, interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Steele said that “we have to elect moderates in this party.” And this involvement with the RLC has been recently recognized with his endorsement for RNC Chairman by the Log Cabin Republicans who said that “Steele believes in a big tent GOP,” who ” worked closely with Log Cabin ally Christine Todd Whitman at the Republican Leadership Council.”

Steele’s call to prohibit conservative RNC members from meeting is consistent with his apparent hostility to social conservatives’ involvement in the Republican Party.

At the RNC special meeting on January 7th, Betsy Werronen, NCW DC, asked the RNC Chairman candidates, as the RNC Chairman, “would you stop (the conservative steering committee) from continuing to meet?” Steele answered “[w]hen I am elected as the RNC Chairman, I will stop this group from meeting again.”

Whatever one thinks about the need for conservative RNC members to meet or the practical possibility that an RNC Chairman could actually stop RNC members from meeting when they want to, Steele’s commitment to ban conservatives from meeting raises several concerns. First, it is highly divisive. There just could not be a more divisive policy by an RNC Chairman than he is entitled to police if and when RNC members can meet together when they want to. Second, free association for political purposes is an essential part of our First Amendment rights. That Steele would want to violate that right raised questions about his commitment to bedrock conservative principles. And, finally, it is consistent with his involvement in the RLC. That Steele would devote his time and effort and lend his reputation to a group that is hostile to social conservatives is certainly consistent with wanting to ban them from meeting at the RNC.

So Steele’s involvement with the RLC ultimately raises a serious concern about his commitment to bringing unity among the members of the RNC. My goal is to unite all conservatives, social, fiscal and national defense, behind the Republican Party, and to unite all members of the Republican party behind our next Chairman. Steele’s involvement in the RLC and his subsequent commitment to stop conservatives from meeting suggests that he will be unwilling and unable to do so.

Fortunately, there are other conservative candidates that I believe can unite the party. Saul Anuzis, Ken Blackwell, Katon Dawson and Mike Duncan are conservatives who want to unify, not divide, the conservative movement. They each bring their own unique combination of talents, experience, and perspectives on the future of the RNC. They deserve our support.